When I was a young child I had a strange image that would often come to me. I would see myself replicated in a long line with my present self at the back and many more versions ahead of me, extending way into the future. In this vision I -my current self- would be waving furiously trying to get the attention of my future selves, but to no avail.
In retrospect it seems much of my young life was spent racing ahead trying to catch up to the me(s) in the front, stretching my current understanding of life and seeking out experiences that would propel me forward.
Interestingly, although I have always felt a need to mark time through journaling, writing, and perhaps even this blog, I have never had any interest in pausing to reflect on what I had written and experienced in the past. I guess I was just too busy trying to get further ahead in line.
But lately I feel a change. The old image of the line has returned but now I find myself occupying a space somewhere comfortably in the middle. And for the first time, I am not straining to push or see into the future.
Instead, I find myself doing something I would have never imagined. I’ve retrieved a box from the attic labeled by my husband “The Mara Chronicles” and am slowly sifting through the poems, essays, and pictures, pausing to remember and appreciate my progression of selves.
It’s a little overwhelming, starting to delve in, unsure where to start and how long to linger. And the presence of my own children adds such interesting lenses and filters. I am holding a report that I wrote back in 1984 on a book that my 9 year old is reading right now. I will share it with her tonight and am wondering if it will be strange, a three-way conversation involving an earlier self who was/is in some ways closer to her than to me.
And when I try to add the overlay of history it becomes almost too much to process- how our experiences, perspectives, and the broader unfolding of time interweave and mingle, making us who we are and who we’ve been, and will become.
For me this interplay between self and history is perhaps best explained through a sample poem from my Chronicles, titled “Berlin, 1988.” As context this was written in my journal during my year as an exchange student in Germany. I was a Junior in high school and spent a week in Berlin with other exchange students with whom I had grown close. We took a subway to East Berlin on the other side of the Wall, and spent the day sightseeing, meeting boys, and trying to be typical 16 year olds. We obviously had no idea that the Wall would ever fall, let alone the very next year…..
By Mara Goodman
Huddled in the haunted
we proclaimed our adulthood
and sang of our country’s honor
We had met impossibility
in the streets of Berlin
and now the shadow of her kiss
left us saddened and gray.
Climbing the wall
we were Americans,
cocky with independence
and a second tongue.
Amused by the novelty
we had giggled through customs,
got drunk on green stuff,
and sick on Eastern cigarettes.
We tried to flirt with a Russian
with a fur hat and big gun,
but he said no.
How hilarious it had all seemed,
we couldn’t even spend our 25 Marks.
But when we met them
the wall grew claws and iron fangs.
They could not know of
the fruit stand,
and colorful graffiti
just on the other side.
They were people
with diluted dreams
born into musts and cannots,
And saying goodbye,
only yards from life
we were helpless
and they were happy to have met us.
When we drove away
we knew that they could not come,
that they would never come,
and we cried for impossibility.
In 2014 I set out to explore versions of my former self through books that had been particularly dear. I hypothesized that by identifying their specialness upon first reading them, I had somehow infused their pages with my contextualized self, creating a permanent shadow of me at that particular moment in time.
This notion of marking time and discovering points of connection between former and present versions of self is an idea that has fascinated me ever since I was very young. In my post, “Marking Time” https://marabhuber.com/?s=marking+time I explained,
When I was a young child I had a strange image that would often come to me. I would see myself replicated in a long line with my present self somewhere toward the back and many more versions ahead of me, extending way into the future. In this vision I -my current self- would be waving furiously trying to get the attention of my future selves, but to no avail. In retrospect it seems much of my young life was spent racing ahead trying to catch up to the me(s) in the front, seeking out experiences and ideas that would propel me forward.
For me, books have been time machines, allowing me to revisit, reflect, and sharpen my understanding. But until now, my journeys have always been solitary. So imagine my delight when my youngest daughter, Natalie, joined me for an unexpected journey back in time.
The trigger was a science video detailing the impacts of reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park. Through a series of before and after sequences, the narrator followed the impacts of a single predator on a vast and interconnected ecosystem, demonstrating the far-reaching effects of a single manipulation that was initially deemed small and unimportant.
As I listened to Natalie try to explain why she found this to be so utterly compelling, trying to get her head around how far this idea could be taken and extrapolated, I immediately thought of a similar story that had captured my own imagination when I was her age. It was a short story by Ray Bradbury in which a group of hunters traveled back in time to the age of the dinosaurs. The hunters were led on an adventure that was closely controlled, with clear instructions to never leave the trail, that any misstep could alter the details of history, leading to unforeseen consequences and implications.
As I found myself recounting this story, which I hadn’t read in over thirty years, Natalie seemed to appreciate the significance of connection. She recognized the specialness of a common theme and idea fascinating both of us. She somehow saw – or felt- herself in me and me in her, and we both reveled in the intimacy.
Through the magic of the internet, I was able to quickly identify and download A Sound of Thunder. And within minutes, Natalie and I were huddled under a blanket, both enthralled, infusing the virtual pages with the essence of us- together- at this single precious moment in time.
Other posts about rereads https://marabhuber.com/?s=reread
I am struck by the evanescence of life. It’s as if everything- and everyone- around me is evolving and changing at an accelerated pace. What once felt heavy and permanent has morphed into airiness with nothing fixed or immutable.
I wouldn’t say it’s alarming. In fact, I find myself welcoming this new state of being. It has forced a sense of presence that is both warm and comforting. Receiving the moments in their fullness, listening, honoring and feeling, before letting it all dissipate and fade, to be replaced by something slightly different and new.
Yet there is a certain oddness to the experience. Seeing my children grow before my eyes, meeting them each day as I marvel at their transformation. But perhaps even more profound are the changes I perceive within myself. As I let go of preconceived notions, fears, and assumptions, situations seem to morph and obstacles dissolve, with endless doors opening to a vista of dizzying expanse.
I am in an adventure. And while there is no use planning or packing, I find myself yearning to somehow chart my course, marking my journey and reconnecting with the places through which I have passed. Clearly, these points are neither geographic nor real in a concrete sense, but instead former versions of myself that I yearn to touch and embrace before letting them go.
My books. How thoughtful of me to have left such vibrant traces for my future selves, captured within the pages of my most precious stories. Recognizing them as treasures even while reading them, I infused them with my dreams, fears, and tears as I allowed them to permeate and touch my soul. In doing so I imprinted them forever with my shadow, a permanent snapshot of me contextualized in time.
By delving back in so many years later it is so much more than a reunion. I am indeed finding joy in reconnecting, but also a yardstick for measuring how far I have come. As I acknowledge and appreciate the distance, I am gradually released from the residual angst and pressure. In its place is lightness, lifting me further upward, back into the glorious unknown.
The books I am rereading
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (high school years)
Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemmingway (junior year studying abroad)
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (early college)
The Love Song of J. Afred Proofrock by T. S. Eliot (college)
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (college)
Dalva by Jim Harrison (adulthood)
West of the Night by Beryl Markham (adulthood, Tanzania project)
The Little Prince (by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, see earlier post)
The Alchemist (by Paulo Coelho)
Night Train to Lisbon (Pascal Mercier)
*Please share your own rereads and what you are learning/have learned along the way